Outside Edge: Awesome oarsmen in deep trouble


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The Independent Online

Everybody's doing tests of endurance these days. Am I being left behind?

We used to have to sponsor everyone to do parachute jumps. Now at least they're cartwheeling to the South Pole or waterboarding the length of the Amazon. And it's certainly hats off to the Row2Recovery team, four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with amputated limbs who are rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic along with two able-bodied ex-servicemen. They aim to raise £1m for charities that care for injured personnel. But they have run into a few problems.

Is the Ministry of Defence involved?

No, but as in the war zones their equipment doesn't work properly. The boys are 1,000 miles from their destination, Barbados, after more than a month at sea but they are running out of drinking water. Their desalinator, which takes the salt out of seawater, had an electrical fault and then the manual back-up broke straightaway. Their supply yacht will take a week to reach them.

So it hasn't all been plain sailing then.

Not in the least. Lieutenant Will Dixon, whose left leg was amputated after he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan two years ago, found that seawater had made the release mechanism on his prosthetic limb rusty, though the application of sun cream has helped lubricate the area so he can at least keep going. But as if that wasn't bad enough, he was also hit on the head by a flying fish.

You might say that's a slap in the face with a wet fish.

You might. And then there's Corporal Rory Mackenzie, the medical officer, who was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007. The shrapnel is still working its way through his body and on Christmas Day he pulled five shards of it out of his backside using forceps in heavy seas.

It makes you marvel at the human spirit – and the human body.

Quite. And while we're at it, let's congratulate Alan Lock of Clevedon in Somerset, who has become the first blind person to reach the South Pole, travelling 600 miles in 39 days. He lost his sight while training to be a naval officer nine years ago, but since then he has run 10 marathons, including the 151-mile Marathon des Sables in the Sahara desert, and in 2008 he became the first visually impaired person to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Plenty of slips and sledging

Julie Ashmore, Neil Laughton and James Balfour got in some quick fielding practice before flying from Heathrow to the South Pole to stage a cricket match in honour of Captain Scott's failed trek to the bottom of the world, 100 years ago on 17 January. Laughton, a former SAS officer, chose the sport because "it's an iconic British sport and a team game". The trio will be joined by Jonathan Beswick and will complete the final 100 miles to the pole on foot, which sounds like a long, hard slog. They hope to recruit a few more players along the way. It's not clear whether they will be wearing the traditional whites.

Gold medal, silver screen

Following the death of Bob Anderson, the former British Olympic fencer who played Darth Vader for the light sabre fights in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, here are some other Olympians who became film stars:

Norman Pritchard was an Indian sprinter who acted in silent films under the name Norman Trevor. He won two silvers at the 1900 Games in Paris.

Sonja Henie was a Norwegian figure skater and three-time Olympic champion who was one of the highest-paid actors in the 1930s and '40s.

Johnny Weissmuller won five Olympic gold medals for the United States at swimming before gaining fame for his portrayal of Tarzan.

Esther Williams co-starred with Weissmuller but the swimmer missed the 1940 Games because of the war.

Thin edges: Top lawyer accused of heavy breathing

Some people just don't know when to stop. Take R Laurence Macon, who broke the world record for the most marathons run in a calendar year when he completed the first race of the New Year's Double Marathon in Dallas, Texas on 31 December – on his 67th birthday. It was his 113th 26.2-mile race of the year, beating the previous record of 106 set by South Korea's IM Chae Ho in 2009 – a mark that Macon himself had equalled in 2010. The lawyer from San Antonio, Texas only started running aged 49 and says he is in "lousy" shape. He runs marathons so frequently that he often conducts his business during a race. "The opposing counsel doesn't seem to be bothered by my heavy breathing," he said. And he has no intention of winding down. "I have left specific instructions that if I die on the course, my friends are supposed to drag my body down the rest of the course and across the finish line."

No whistle-stop

After the extraordinary stories of sportsmen with disabilities listed above, here's an unfortunate one from the Scottish Junior Cup. Philip John Dolan is a deaf footballer who was playing for Kilsyth against Armadale on New Year's Eve when he was booked for playing on after being given offside – he hadn't heard the referee's whistle. Dolan, who plays for the Great Britain deaf football team, didn't do himself any favours by getting booked again moments later for diving and was sent off.

Party pooper at pole

The South Pole may seem like a lonely place to spend New Year's Eve. Explorer Mark Wood, who is trying to become the first man to ski to both poles back-to-back, had not seen anyone for a month when he bumped into a group of Norwegian kitesurfers. They asked him to join their party but he had to refuse because he must do the trip on his own.